Earlier this spring we had a pleasure to show our hospitality to several quite interesting guests from USA. Mr. Frank Dietrich of Blue Danube Wines, joined by his staff, wine writer Marcy Gordon and Zdravko and Marion Podolski of GoHvar blog all joined us at a very special little tasting in Benkovac.
The tasting was held at a 15th century Benkovac castle – an impressive historic monument that was nicely restored and now houses a local museum. It is often used as a great presentation venue for various events.
When the guests arrived, the food was also served. Just small bites but very tasty and quite authentic: escargot done the traditional way for the region…
But the stars of the day were, of course, local wines! All the major wine makers showed up: Škaulj, Figurica, Masvin…
Almost all wines were organic and had the eco label which was a bit surprising but I am glad that the wine makers of the region are taking the right path after the war and neglected vineyards. Most of the wines were local maraština (white), merlot, plavac but also Masvin served their own Crljenak which was surprisingly good.
One of more interesting wines was Asseria by small Bačić winery as it was a blend of several wines and also local maraska cherry brandy.
The event was a great success and the best proof how a very unique settings can serve as a fabulous place for small and intimate events. The organisation was at a high level and all wines served proved that the quality is (finally) coming back to the region of Ravni Kotari. The region was once a major exporter of wines but, in the past 60-70 years has lost all the quality in favor of mass production… Badel, a major Croatian company for wine and liquor, made the tide turn with their Korlat vineyards and now is being followed by small local winemakers all over the region.
The Benkovac tourist board with Bankovac Museum did a wonderful job in organizing everything!
The spring is finally back! Great time to enjoy outdoors and to do some final exploring before we get too busy. Focus is crucial in our line of business so there will not be so many trips purely for pleasure this summer…
First Sunday of April brought beautiful, sunny weather and we decided to head in to the hills. This time following ancient Roman road leading from the coast all the way to the interior.
The basic route was to follow the modern road (that closely follows the Roman and pre-Roman communications) from Pakostane on the coast via ruins of Asseria to modern day Medviđa (Liburnian/RomanSidrona?) and Krupa river spring into the heart of southern part of Velebit massif.
Tourist board of Benkovac did a great job putting the milestones by the road!!!
Our first stop was Kaštel Žegarski. Ancient tower guarding a fertile valley of Žegar. I have never visited although must have passed it several dozen times.
It is a typical tower from the 1500s like numerous other in the region. It is quite well preserved with even some wooden elements still supporting the former windows. Hidden in the woods, one has to look closely when entering the village to spot it between the houses on the right.
We continued over the hill to Krupa river spring. It is quite lively by the river these days with people picking wild asparagus, shepherds with goats and sheep…
We did not spend too much time there as we are familiar with the place. Krupa is probably Croatia’s most beautiful river but the spring is hardly impressive.
Soon after the spring, the magic starts and few kilometers later, it enters the most beautiful canyon.
But, our goal was Lika. Following the ancient road that most certainly passed through this region. It followed the ancient communications and gradina hilltop fortresses lined along the route. The last one is Smokovac near Krupa spring. It is easy to find it – starts right near the main water bottling plant and heads straight to the mountains.
The landscape is quite barren, rocky and inhospitable. Bura is harsh in this region and there is lots of snow in the winter. The road gets ruined by the water flowing but there seems to be someone taking care of it as it is in a fairly good shape. Nothing a proper SUV cannot cross anyways. Not for regular cars!
We thought we were alone and there will be no one on the road…
But then we saw a WV Caddy approaching! We just passed him but noticed that the driver was surprised as we were. Obviously, we were on a good road so we continued further up the mountain where the landscape got more serious, mountain-like and the the condition of the road worsened.
We were at the crossroads at one moment and had no clue where to go. Duboki Dol fields were to our right and one section – better looking – leading towards it but another section did not look that bad either. Had to even walk part of the road to make an educated guess at one point…
Luckily, the WV Caddy returned (followed by two SUVs, probably hunters) and we asked for the directions. What are the odds to actually have someone to ask for the directions! The guy was most helpful so we followed him for part of the road. It was the road to our left and from then on, it was “left, left, right, right” to get to the main road in Lika – if anyone wants to drive this.
The mountain offers stunning views but we stopped only for picnic lunch as we wanted to see few more places that day.
Soon we were across: at the Lika side of the trail. The road did not offer too many evidences of ancient traffic actually going this way but this is the easiest way to cross the mountain and there are plenty of wells and water holes along the route so it must have been busy back in the day. Archaeologists did some exploring in this area but plenty of work yet to be done as no guard posts have been located or possible settlements/gradina hilltop fortresses.
The landscape in Lika was typical for Velebit.
It was a great experience and the kids enjoyed running through the fields, echoes of the mountain, fresh air … Next time I plan to spend a whole day in the mountain and maybe do some bird watching as I hear some birds I never heard before. There must be some owls as well since Velebit is known for large ones.
Talking about big birds…
Our next stop was supposed to be an ancient road near Knin but could not locate it so we continued to Mokro Polje.
It is a fairly large village located in a beautiful valley by Zrmanja river. It was predominantly Serbian (cc 1800 inhabitants back in 1991) and it is almost abandoned now with only about a dozen elderly living in few houses.
Some are restoring their old houses and doing quite a good job although that AC unit could have been hidden from the front facade…
The village was probably inhabited by the Roman veterans after the Rome finalized the conquest of the region. Nearby Burnum military camp was de-militarized in 69 AD as Roman peace was finally brought upon the local tribes of Delmates and Liburnaes. The Morko Polje field is quite big and offers a great place to live.
And beautiful Zrmanja river runs through.
There is life everywhere. Except in the houses…
While picking asparagus, we met one lady who was just going to get fresh water from the river and she told us bout people leaving and how only few elderly ladies remain. Their little hamlet is further away from the main road and it is very picturesque with tall oak trees still standing.
The old lady told us that someone was here looking for tall trees to cut them down but they did not let these beautiful giants to be cut down. Some people simply don’t have a heart 😦
It was sad to see this lady (83) being the youngest in her village. But that is the destiny of many more villages in the country…
It was time to move on: with freshly picked 2 kilos of wild asparagus. We took another ancient road towards Ervenik. Views of Zrmanja were beautiful from almost every stop along the canyon.
So life thrived along these roads for centuries during the Roman times and then, after the barbaric invasion, probably the entire region was inhabited for longer than that. The life came back with some Morlach settlers escaping the Turkish rule back in late 1500s but will end soon. And then? When will be the next time people move to Morko Polje to live? Never?
Everything will be left for birds and animals.Maybe it is better that way.
This winter continues with beautiful weather. Perfect for hikes and exploring the sites I never visited before. It is simply amazing how many of those still are! And I keep finding new ones…
After few years I knew about it, I finally got the time to get to the Lišanska gradina (Lišane hilltop fortress). It is not easily accessible and, on foot – from the main road – it would take one over an hour or so to reach it. This was again time for my Hilux and solid off road experience through the bushes and rocky, narrow paths…
On a satellite image, the fortress looks interesting but I knew it is not going to be easy to reach it. The terrain surrounding it looks quite rough even online…
We stopped after a while as it was impossible to drive through the very rocky terrain and we immediately noticed ancient road in front of us. It has all the characteristics of a typical Roman road with groves made by wheels for centuries.
The road to gradina is easy and quite clear. We noticed that road has been cleared and thought that it were the hunters that sometimes hunt in these areas. But then we noticed olive trees.
Continuing towards the hilltop fortress, we noticed a proper and fenced olive orchard. It is fascinating not only that it is in the middle of nowhere and still looks stunning, but it is probably in the same location the ancient inhabitants of the fortress had their own olive orchard. Few thousand years ago…
Continuing to the fortress, we noticed the Ostrovica rock in the distance. One of the most fascinating and mystical places in all of Dalmatia!
Lišanska gradina has not been properly explored and there are very few mentions of it in the specialized literature. It is well off any beaten paths but, obviously, it was located on a popular route as the ancient road we walked has been in use for many centuries. It has a great control of the neighboring area with sweeping views all the way to the sea (on a clear day).
The gradina itself is in a typical shape – main dry rock walls have fallen down many centuries ago and they are now just a pile of rocks surrounding the slope of the hill. The other part of the fortress is easily defended as it sits on a high cliff.
The area within the walls is now just an empty, deserted plain with bushes and rocks all over. One cannot make too much sense of it without a proper excavation…
The slopes have some indication of gates but, again, it will need a professional eye to look at this.
As the entire area, there is lots of evidence of wild boar in the area.
As the sun sets early in these winter months, we had to head out to the car. We took the different route to admire the high southern cliff of Lišanska gradina. It is over 10 meters high in some places and looks quite impressive.
Another beautiful place we leave behind. To enjoy the silence and bask in the winter sunset. Abandoned for eternity…